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Williams v. Warden, Louisiana State Penitentiary

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

January 29, 2015


Roy Lee Williams, Plaintiff, Pro se, Angola, LA.

For Warden Louisiana State Penitentiary also known as Burl Cain, on behalf of James Caldwell, Defendant: Louis G Authement, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hahnville, LA.


Mark L. Hornsby, United States Magistrate Judge.


Mrs. Avis Foster, age 73, was kidnapped from the Coushatta home that she shared with her invalid husband. She was beaten, raped, and strangled, and her body was found abandoned in neighboring Natchitoches Parish. Paroled rapist Roy Lee Williams (" Petitioner") was developed as a suspect and arrested on an outstanding parole warrant. Petitioner made statements to investigating officers in which he admitted taking Mrs. Foster's car but denied killing her. DNA samples taken from the victim's body and Petitioner's clothing linked him to the crime.

Petitioner was charged with first-degree murder and faced the death penalty. He eventually entered a plea of guilty to first-degree murder, reserving his right to appeal certain pretrial issues, in exchange for a life sentence and the dismissal of an aggravated kidnapping charge. The State reserved the right to seek the death penalty pending the outcome of any appeal. Petitioner nonetheless appealed and challenged the denial of his motion to suppress statements made to police.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 panel decision, held that the motion to suppress should have been granted. On rehearing, The court held 3-2 that the trial court was correct to hold the statements admissible. State v. Williams, 965 So.2d 541 (La.App. 2d Cir. 2007). The Supreme Court of Louisiana denied writs without comment, although two justices (Calogero and Johnson) voted to grant the writ. 978 So.2d 347 (La. 2008). Petitioner then filed a post-conviction application, which was denied.

He now seeks federal habeas relief on the grounds that (1) statements made by him were inadmissible; (2) Red River Parish was not the proper venue for the prosecution; and (3) ineffective assistance of counsel. The principal claim is that police violated Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477, 101 S.Ct. 1880, 68 L.Ed.2d 378 (1981), which generally provides that if a suspect invokes his Fifth Amendment right to counsel police may not continue to question him unless the accused himself initiates further communication with the police. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended the petition be denied.

The Motion to Suppress Statements

A. Relevant Facts

After Petitioner was developed as a suspect, a Red River Parish deputy learned of an outstanding parole violation warrant that had issued for Petitioner several weeks earlier. The search for Petitioner led to Alexandria, in Rapides Parish, where OnStar indicated the victim's car was located. The car was stopped, and the driver told police that he got the car from Gordon Foster (the name of the victim's husband). The driver was shown a photo lineup and asked to identify Mr. Foster. He pointed to a picture of Petitioner. An Alexandria police officer soon located Petitioner on the evening of February 3, 2004, arrested him, and took him to the Alexandria Police Department.

Sheriff's deputies from Red River and Natchitoches Parishes jointly investigated the crime. Travis Trammell (Natchitoches) and Tracy Scott (Red River) met with Petitioner that evening at the Alexandria Police Department after Petitioner was picked up on the parole violation warrant. Trammell advised Petitioner of his Miranda rights, both orally and in writing, and the deputies explained that they were investigating Mrs. Foster's murder and her missing car. Petitioner signed a portion of the form to indicate that he understood his rights, but he declined to sign the portion that waived those rights and indicated a desire to make a statement or answer questions.

Deputy Scott was asked at the hearing if Petitioner asked for a lawyer. He said, " I believe he did say that he needed to talk to counsel." Deputy Trammell testified that Petitioner made a reference to not having any idea what any of it was all about but ultimately, " He wanted to talk to his lawyer before he talked to us." The deputies immediately stopped questioning Petitioner once he requested counsel. Petitioner, though, began to ask them questions in what appeared to be an effort to determine what the deputies knew about the crimes. Tr. 357-79.

Carla Whitstine of the Alexandria city police then took Petitioner to the Rapides Parish jail to book him on the parole violation warrant. The jail policy required that booked prisoners have Miranda waivers, so Whitstine completed a Miranda advice form, which Petitioner signed. She did not question Petitioner. Tr. 380-88. Later that evening, Petitioner was taken to the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center.

The next day, February 4, 2004, Judge Lewis Sams of Red River Parish signed a warrant for Petitioner's arrest for unauthorized use of the victim's motor vehicle. Red River Deputy Johnny Taylor and Natchitoches Sheriff Victor Jones served the warrant on Petitioner at the detention center. Petitioner was brought to a room to visit with Deputy Taylor and the Sheriff. Deputy Taylor, who was fairly well acquainted with Petitioner, told him that they were there to serve him with a warrant for unauthorized use of Mrs. Foster's car. Taylor then read Petitioner his Miranda rights from a preprinted form. Petitioner signed to acknowledge he understood his rights. He also signed a second part of the form that was a waiver. It included the statements: " I understand what my rights are and elect to waive them. I am willing to answer questions and make a statement. I do not want a lawyer."

The sheriff asked Petitioner if he wished to talk to them, and he said he did. The sheriff stated that Petitioner would need to make a written request before they could talk. Petitioner then physically wrote and signed a note that stated, " I Roy Williams request to see Johnny Taylor." ...

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